Small Talk: Fund has the prescription to cash in on GPs' quiet revolution

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The Independent Online

Almost a third of the UK's general practitioners are due to retire in the next five years and the trend could be speeded up by government changes to their pensions.

Almost a third of the UK's general practitioners are due to retire in the next five years and the trend could be speeded up by government changes to their pensions.

It is a startling state of affairs, and one which comes at the same time as other significant changes in the way that GPs work. They are being encouraged to offer an increased range of medical services, and club together to move to bigger, better-equipped centres to be able to provide them.

The Medical Property Fund is a creative and ambitious investment company set up in 2003 to take advantage of these trends. It owns GP surgeries, either ones it has built itself or those it has bought off existing partners wanting to cash in before retirement.

The Fund's shares have performed strongly since flotation on the back of this strategy, but there are further reasons to be excited about its prospects. The most intriguing of these is its nascent plan to move into the running of chemists' shops. Pharmacy chains are also being encouraged to do more for patients to take the heat off GP surgeries. At the same time, they are finding that sites adjacent to surgeries can be more profitable because of their convenience to patients. The Medical Property Fund is designing chemists' into its bigger medical centres when it can. Rather than outsourcing the running of them just yet, it is recruiting managers and will soon be operating eight itself.

The trends that the fund is hoping to capitalise on amount to a quiet revolution and, as tabloid headlines last week suggested, some doctors will fight many aspects including the move away from small "Dr Finlay-style" surgeries. Small Talk just wants to put readers on notice that the fund is no passive property investor, but could soon be an interesting little collection of businesses offering support services to GPs.

Easier pair face music

Time is running out for Messrs Gough and Copsey, the men behind Easier, to offer a solution to the issues surrounding the cash shell where £5.4m is unaccounted for. Its hundreds of small shareholders, who have been locked in since the stock was forceably delisted after failing to file its accounts last year, have been invited to an extraordinary general meeting at the offices of KBC Peel Hunt in London on Thursday to vote off David Gough, the chairman, in favour of Neville Buch, a shareholder and head of the AIM-listed exhibitions group Tarsus.

Brian Copsey is Mr Gough's partner in Fulton Partners, the offshore investment firm which controls Easier, and is Easier's managing director. AIM investors with long memories will recall him as a director of Greenhills and Alpha Omikron in the Nineties. Greenhills was set up by Mr Copsey to create a chain of themed restaurants but went into receivership after being censured by the Stock Exchange for withholding important financial details from shareholders. Alpha Omikron, a medical supplier, was thrown off AIM after its advisers resigned.

There was some suggestion over the weekend that Mr Copsey would be able to orchestrate a cash offer to other shareholders in Easier. This would let them realise some of their investment, and it might be acceptable to Mr Buch.

However, it would certainly not answer the question of why the company has been unable to prove the whereabout of its sole asset, the £5.4m in cash.

Imagesound pipes up

When Imagesound, the supplier of background music to shops and shopping centres, came to market via a three-way merger last July, it promised this was just the start of consolidation. Now it is spending £900,00 on Ideal Music, a supplier to 1,200 shops. More to follow.

Chromogenex aims to knock spots off rivals in AIM float

A company whose laser technology is used to treat acne, to zap unsightly body hair and to remove tattoos, freckles and sunspots, is coming to the stock market valued at £6.5m.

Chromogenex has been dragged into profit by a new management team brought in two years ago, having evolved out of technology invented at Swansea University in 1986.

The company has raised £2m to fund a marketing push abroad, and to complete work on its new laser products for the mildest forms of acne and for treating cellulite. Its shares start trading at 11p on AIM today.

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